An Edinburgh apocalypse

'Grand Finale', Peter Standen

Calton Hill becomes an island. Princes Street gardens a lake. The Royal Mile a wooded hill. Edinburgh city centre open parkland.

During the festival friends chanced upon the work of Edinburgh artist Peter Standen, while browsing the West End Fair just below St John's Episcopal Church. I liked the postcards they had bought, and went to the fair to have a look myself the next day.

Standen has created an intriguing series of prints showing Edinburgh transformed back to nature following environmental apocaplypse (a subject I wondered about in my last post).

The one above shows North Bridge submerged by a tsunami. Here's another striking image, Princes Street conceived as a latter day Roman Forum:

'Princes Street, a future view', Peter Standen

Compare with the classic Forum view, from the Capitoline Hill:

Roman Forum

In the notes to one of his exhibitions Standen said:

Ever since childhood I have been intrigued by scenes of the Roman Campagna depicted in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries - the grandeur of the classical ruins now home to sheep, goats and peasants. Now that the consensus is that the earth itself is being ruined and that time is running out before it can be saved, I find it much easier to convey what my work is about now than was formerly the case. A possible rise in sea levels would make for a more interesting coastline to the city and that idea has given me the opportunity to add 'mer-people' to Edinburgh’s surviving population.

Here's Calton Hill, reconceived as an island:

'Calton Island', Peter Standen

And an Edinburgh panorama:

'An age of trees shall be again', Peter Standen

The prints remind me somewhat of the brilliant artwork on the Radiohead musician Thom Yorke's solo records, showing London landmarks swept away by tidal wave, in the style of medieval woodcut:

Inner sleeve, 'The Eraser'

There's a pre-lapsarian, Edenic quality to the images, a sense of paradise regained: many of the landscapes are peopled by figures enjoying a pastoral idyll restored through destruction of the city.

Not a future state that I myself would find particularly desirable: I'd rather live now, within a civilisation, than before or after. But I don't know enough about Peter Standen to know what he thinks of the good and bad of urban life: perhaps he is just referencing elements of the pastoral tradition without comment.

Whatever; I really like the idea and execution. It's fascinating to imagine a familiar cityscape as it was during the millenia before civilisation, and as it may be again.

For more see the pages for Standen's Future Cityscapes exhibition of 2011 held at The Sutton Gallery, and his page on the Edinburgh Printmakers site.

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